AWKA-ETITI: ON THE ROAD TO LASTING PEACE
2 DECEMBER, 1995
History was made in Awka-Etiti – nay, the entire Ala Igbo on Friday, the 15th of September, 1995, when the long estranged and sequestered ruler of the community, Chief S.O.C. Ezenwa swore to the traditional 9-man oath, ‘’iyi madu teghete”, to absolve himself of complicity in the murder of the former Gboko High Court Judge, the late Justice Anoliefo. That the oath taking took place at all is a very important bit history because students of contemporary Igbo history agree that events of such significance are rare indeed. In this material case, the land marks status of the oath taken by chief Ezenwa last September is shown by the fact that the main thrust of politicking in Awka-Etiti in the last nine years has centred on whether or not the widely rejected ruler should swear to the 9-man oath, among other conditionalities, in order to regain his throne. For good or bad, it had become the most crucial of the major points of controversy between majority of Awka-Etiti people, resented by the Awka-Etiti Improvement Union (A.I.U) and erstwhile Igwe Silas Ezenwa and his backers. The late Judge of the Gboko High Court had vigorously fought his own imminent death, besieging the town- through the seven village meetings and the A.I.U with letters of warning and appeal about a definite plot to assassinate him by some prominent indigenes of the town. The only notable reaction of the town then was the delegation of representatives of the town union and village meetings to the Igwe appealing to him to take action to forestall the alleged planned killing of the town’s illustrious son. Notwithstanding such peremptory gestures, gruel-some death still ambushed and shot down the amiable judge at the break of dawn, on the 23rd of December, 1986. It was the eve of a development fund launching that would have changed the face of Awka-Etiti forever.
The immediate reaction of the constitutional town leaders was to sue for peace and calm frayed nerves. It organised a covenant session in which the people, including the Igwe swore on the Holy Bible publicly that they had no hand in the assassination. That kept the uneasy peace for a while. But when at the funeral of late Justice, his will was publicly read whenever he named Igwe S.O.C Ezenwa as one of the three prominent people responsible for his murder, the tone of the people and the A.I.U changed to a more strident one. The later now demanded that in line with the native laws and customs of the town, the Igwe having been openly linked to a death should take the “9-man oath” (“iyi madu teghete”) for the whole community to clear his name. His refusal to accede to this request then led to pronouncements of severe sanctions: dethronement, by the general meeting of the Awka-Etiti Improvement Union and expulsion from “Nze-na-Ozo” membership, by that group, all in 1987. But the crisis simply snowballed, and the 9-man oath remained a recurring decimal.
When the Anambra State Government set up 14-man committee made up of representatives of each village, the issue of “iyi madu teghete” was its hottest. The majority report insisted on it while a minority report inveigled it. Again in 1990, a four-member clergy peace committee for the Awka-Etiti was set up by the colonel Akonobi administration. The report apparently weighed in favour of the estranged ruler ‘swearing for his people in accordance with their laws and existing practice’. Both reports never saw the light of day as allegedly promised by those opposed to it.
Then the administration of the first elected executive government of the new Anambra State led by Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, which had dispute mediation as its cardinal landmark. He got the towns folk to substitute the dethronement of Igwe Silas to suspension of his privileges and in return gave the town the peace agreement of 1992 with a 60-man electoral body and the current elected Awka-Etiti Improvement Union, A.I.U., and executive leadership. This leadership, with Godwin Emejulu as president and Josephat O. N. Okpalafulaku as Vice President got another two year extension of their mandate in March, 1994 in line with the Ezeife Peace Agreement and worked extra-ordinarily hard to bring about the fulfilment of the nine year old wish of the town which we witnessed at the Awka-Etiti Town Hall on the 15th of September, 1995. Needless to say that the government of Lt. Colonel Mike Attah has the crowning glory of making the ‘iyi madu teghete’ see the light of day in the 9th year of the clamour for it and thus nudging the town considerably forward on the road to lasting peace.
The special announcement from the Ime Obi Palace Chairman/Secretary of Igwe Silas Ezenwa inviting one and all to the oath taking was quite enigmatic and yet so revealing. That was the verdict of the communication and language arts consultants who analysed it for Awka-Etiti Excel.
In one breath, it sought to seize the public initiative and credit for the oath taking from both the Awka-Etiti Improvement Union, which had fought relentlessly for nine years to achieve that success, and the government of Colonial Mike Attah, which finally made the difference where four previous state governments had failed.
In another breath, it could be seen as another last ditch attempt to scuttle the ‘iyi madu teghete’ by terrorising the predominantly Christian and largely catholic citizenry with the prospects of witnessing and even partaking in a pagan ritual, hence the emphasis of the first two paragraphs of the announcement on ‘iyi’ARUSI’- in capital letters. This view appears to corroborated by the reported badging in with a copy of the release, of Chief Enemuo, the signatory to the document, into a meeting of the Parish Council at the meeting at the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where he gleefully presented the matter, but failed to get it to be announced to the church congregation.
Similarly, going by the communal nature of the entire saga, our experts noticed a tendency in the document (and in other recent documents from the same source) to reduce the oath taking proper to just an Anoliefo family issue, thus making it far less weighty than it actually is. In the view of the informed analyst, the fact of the three parties: government, A.I.U. and the traditional rulership, the two parties that insisted on the oath taking did not see the need for any such organised campaign is quite indicative of the propaganda value of the document to its originators.
Perhaps the most important aspects of the document is the insight it gives us into the behind-the-scene events that ensured the oath was taken in the ninth year of the persistent demand for it. After all, the refusal to take it, among other less controversial issues, led to the heavy polarisation of the town, giving rise to excommunications, alleged killings and quite notably a five village-two village dichotomy. So how was the cat belled at last?
This is a new peace accord reached at Government House Awka presided over by the Anambra State Military Administrator and other top government officials and in attendance were some representatives of the Anoliefo family, some members of the 60 man (A.I.U) Committee, H.R.H Igwe S.O.C. Ezenwa II, the Obi of Awka-Etiti and other prominent Awka-Etiti citizens. This special peace meeting held at the Government House Awka-Etiti as above on the 5th September, 1995, and was agreed to be the final lap of the Awka-Etiti problem, which will restore lasting peace to Awka-Etiti.
Working assiduously on the above privileged information and following regular attendance at the meetings of the 60-man committee, our team of reporters have been able to piece together a nine months blow by blow account of how the jinx of nine years was broken and the oath taken on Friday, September 15, 1995.
At the January 3, 1995 meeting of the 60-man Committee, the atmosphere was up-beat. This was because between the April 5, 1994 renewal of the mandate of that body and the day of that meeting, the committee had galvanised serious discussions and consultations on the unfolding, peace process initiated two and a half years earlier by the then governor, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife and so were now on the verge of making a monumental declaration. At the end of the day-long meeting, the body declared that it had on behalf of Awka-Etiti people, resolved and agreed that His Royal Highness, Igwe S.O.C. Ezenwa, be re-established fully as the reigning Igwe of Awka-Etiti, with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto, on the sole condition that he fully subscribes to and fully implements all the seven terms listed; those terms included: the cessation of the use of the designation “second” (II) the retraction of all claim to hereditary Igweship, the regaining of his ozo title, a democratic reconstitution of council of Ichies, the rotation of the Igweship on the basis of seniority of villages and the supremacy of the in-coming town and chieftaincy constitutions. But by far the most notable of the prerequisites was the one which appeared as number three item: taking the traditional oath, “iyi madu teghete”.
Our investigations showed that there was no official response to this resolution from the Igwe after this resolution was sent to him. Instead the Iruowelle village leadership in the letter dated 9-1-95 petitioned in a secretary to the State Government, Mr Okwuchukwu Ezeaku, who invited the A.I.U leadership to a parley. What happened was not exactly clear to our team of investigators but it appears that the A.I.U leadership was alarmed by the stance taken by the secretary in that and possibly some other meetings with the Secretary. They sensed an attempt to foist a hasty and unpopular resolution of the crisis on the silent majority of the town.
It was a worried and frantic A.I.U. leadership, we learnt, that now appealed to the good offices of the Administrator on 3rd of May, seeking to move the peace process forward by having him compel the Igwe to sign the “Terms of Settlement” containing seven conditions listed above. This move appeared to have paid off as the administrator, Col. Michael E. Attah, Mss, Fss, Psc, was said to have granted the A.I.U. delegation an audience on or about the 21st of June. During that meeting, the delegation gave the State Chief Executive a low down- with documentary evidence- of the Awka-Etiti crisis emphasised the centrality of the 9-man oath in the resolution of the crisis.
Their well-articulated position was said to have impressed the perceptive administrator who agreed that the traditional ruler should do the bidding of the peoples who made him their ruler.
THE OATH THAT WAS TAKEN BY IGWE EZENWA II
“Justice Lawrence Okafor Anoliefo, if ever I was in conspiracy, or in a scheme, or sent somebody or gave instructions for him to be murdered, or hired assassins to achieve the same for me; or if I in any way know about what happened to him, let this oath kill me. But if I was not in consort with anybody so to do, let those who put me on this false oath be killed by it”.
It was said that at this juncture, one of the commissioners in attendance at the meeting- sources say he hailed from Awka-Etiti- pointed out to the administrator that the other side of the case, the Igwe’s side should be invited as well. This, the administrator also acceded to, insisting that he must find an amicable solution to the entire crisis. One notable event at this meeting the serious exception taken by the A.I.U to what it saw as the meddle some and manipulative disposition of the S.M.G. and an influential commissioner of Awka-Etiti origin in the whole matter.
From this point on, it was self-evident that the State Administrator had taken personal interest in the matter and was determined to see it through its logical conclusion.
Highly reliable sources close to the Igwe’s camp suggested that the State Chief Executive again gave the Igwe group an audience on or about the 10th of August, this time around with an Acting Secretary to the Government in attendance among other senior aids of the Administrator. The Awka-Etiti born commissioner was unavoidably absent, it was said, it was said that the state boss did not hide his resolute commitment to solving out the matter in the best interest of the town. The Igwe delegation, with Joe Martins Uzodike and the Ide of Awka-Etiti, Chief Johnson Igwe, as Chief Lobbyist now mounted a concerted efforts to get the Administrator to nullify the oath taking proposal. They implored him to let bygone be bygone and to hold that the oath íyi madu teghete’is fetish and therefore immoral and illegal in the current dispensation. But like a man destined to make history like Daniel, the Hebrew judge of old, the hard boiled but soft spoken brigade of guards army colonel, was reported to have stood his ground, insisting that he will host another meeting of both parties to finalize the oath which in his view was quite legal in custom and tradition of the people that Igwe is the custodian of.
It was a visibly unflattered Igwe delegation that was reported to have left meeting of August 10, as if to underscore this and in a desperate attempt to get the administrator to change his mind about the oath, the Igwe was to have written a four page letter, dated 21/8/95 and signed personally, to him trying to exonerate himself of the murder and restating the reasons why he should not be made to swear the oath.
However; sensing the need to be more flexible in his approach, he then told the Administrator that should his Excellency decide to have the oath taken, then it must be done within three market weeks from the date of the Administrator’s order. This, according to him, is because he had taken twice. Thus, he agreed, it should be presumed that Justice Anoliefo had just died for him to make this second oath within the traditional time frame for oaths.
He also insisted that the oath he should swear must be provided by the Anoliefo’s who shall jointly swear before him to prove it is not a malicious juju.
Then came 5th of September, 1995, the Administrator hosted both parties again to the meeting which the Igwe’s secretary referred to in his controversial announcement of the oath taking. In that meeting, sources say, there was an abortive last ditch attempt by the Igwe group to have the oath taking counselled. The Administrator insisted that he wanted peace and progress in Awka-Etiti and that he had reached the conclusion that the oath would remove the major hindrance to peace. Most reluctantly, the Igwe accepted but quickly re-stated the conditions he was said to have earlier mentioned in a letter to the Administrator. The A.I.U. delegation however, insisted that the oath is to be brought by the town not just one family as the Igwe wanted it.
The gallant Colonel once more arrived at a compromise: the oath was being brought by the aggrieved party. The meeting was also said to have arrived at specific decisions about the historic event. Among these are:
That the oath should be taken unfailingly on Friday, the 15th of September, 1995 by 10 am or it should be regarded as taken.
That after taking “iyi madu teghete”, Chief Ezenwa should observe the customary ‘Iso nso iyi’ seclusion for one year.
That at the end of the seclusion on 15th September, 1996, the community, with the Igwe, shall meet and negotiate the remaining six issues raised in the “Terms of Settlement”; and
That after the seclusion and consequent upon the resolution of the issues rose in the “Terms of Settlement”, Igwe S.O.C. Ezenwa shall thereafter have all his suspended rights restored to him.
The road to 15th September, 1995 was thus paved, and then began the countdown to monumental history. ‘iyi madu teghete’ at long, long last.
BUT WHAT IS THIS OATH?
“iyi madu teghete” literallt translated to “oath for nine people” Eight persons standing behind an accused, who is swearing the oath, place their hands on him as a statement of their belief in his innocence. In other words, they are vouching for his character to the extent that they want to stick out their necks for the swearer, who swears on a given deity or object presented by the victims of the alleged, crime. Prior to the ‘iyi madu teghete’ enshrined in our constitution, Awka-Etiti practiced another form of oath taking for cases involving death known as ‘iyi mmili ozu’ or ‘oath of the dead body water’.
This one had involved the washing of the body of the victim of an alleged murder, obtaining the water and offering the accused the water so obtained to drink. Long before the town the town adopted ‘Iyi ozu’ it had adhered to the use of ‘iyi mmuo’ or ‘the spirit oath’. Thus, in the living memory of some elders in Awka-Etiti, as the town has progressed within this century, from ‘iyi mmuo’ to ‘iyi ozu’ and now ‘iyi madu teghete’ for serious crimes. The dangers were in response to various Christian and modern influences.
At the time ‘iyi mmuo’ gave way to the ‘iyi mmili ozu’ in the way to the late 50’s, it was due to the overwhelming influence of Christianity whereby Christians, who were fast outnumbering traditionalist rejected a decidedly idolatrous form of swearing for their members. While our reporters could not unearth any case of somebody who partook of the ‘iyi mmuo’ we came up with an interesting case of an Umudunu village woman who took ‘iyi mmili ozu’ in the 1960s. She had been accused of poison of her co-wife who hailed from Iruowelle village. She took the ‘iyi mmili ozu’ and did not die. Instead, according to reliable sources, from her well known pre-oath ailment and is well alive today.
The change from ‘iyi mmili ozu’ to ‘iyi madu teghete’ appear to have been completed towards the end of the civil war in 1970. The change, effected by the A.I.U leadership was on health grounds- the result of knowledge of modern health and hygiene considerations. The first notable test case of the newest form of oath taking occurred soon after the civil war when a certain Omemgboji from Nnaba village died and Mr Nathan Olikeze was accused of complicity in the death. He took the ‘iyi madu teghete’ and remains alive today, over two decades later. Then came up the death of Justice Anoliefo and the nine year controversy over the oath and other related issues.
The Dream Oath at Last!
Going by police presence, it was a non-event. You could count ten or so men in black idling around a two-compartment Japanese jeep. They were not in riot gear, neither did they wear a shoot-at-sight mien. Awka-Etiti had seen more intimidating police presence in the last nine years of the crisis. Yet, what was about to happen was perhaps about the most momentous even in the socio-cultural history of Awka-Etiti in living memory.
As early as 9 am, the president of the Awka-Etiti Improvement Union, Mr Godwin Emejulu, the Vice President, Mr Josephat Okpalafulaku and the A.G. Secretary, Mr J.C. Ifedi, were already seated for the event billed for 10 am. The two traditional oath ministers were also seated by themselves to the left of the A.I.U. leadership. Two sacrificial cockerels and some ‘omu’ (tender palm frond) rested in front of them, and sitting intimidatingly about two feet away was the ritual pot of the deity to be sworn to by Igwe Silas Ezenwa, the traditional ruler of Awka-Etiti, to exonerate himself from imputations of complicity in the death of the late Justice L. O. Anoliefo.
Will it hold? After nine long years of bitter acrimony? After several mysterious murders and deaths of prominent citizens? After several fruitless interventions by four previous governments? Were we about to actually see it happen? We might well be. I took another look at the letter of invitation signed and circulated by Chief E. E. Enemuoh, Nzenwaku, who addressed himself curiously as ‘Ime Obi Palace Chairman/Secretary’. The A.I.U general meeting had in dethroning the Igwe since 1987 (later changed to suspension of privileges by the 1992 Ezeife (Peace Agreement) put on hold all administrative and ceremonial accoutrement of the traditional ruler. Was it to be believed? If nothing, that release with the heading special announcement. Awka-Etiti special peace accord and dated 7th September, 1995 appear to have been a calculated public relations master stroke designed to erode the support and goodwill of Christian purists in the community by raising up to them the spectre of an imminent communal idolatory, should the oath taking be allowed to go on?
By 9.30 am the traffic of people and vehicles entering the large square in front of the Awka-Etiti Town Hall had become heavy and consistent. There were two broad arrangements of tents: the bigger of the two stood to the left, separated from the other by the green lawn and the bald strip of passageway formed by regular human and vehicular crossing. While the A.I.U. leadership and the majority of the people sat in the right section, the sizeable representation of the Igwe’s supporters in the left. Seated in the prominent position in front was Ichie Oku, one of the right hand men of the Igwe.
As it neared 9:45 am the oath attendants moved into place, pouring libation from a full bottle of Seaman’s aromatic Schnapp around the pot of the oath deity, one of them placed a cock on the ground near the pot and, with one fell blow, severed the head of the sacrificial animal, leaving the headless body prancing and falling about the place. Their incantations peaked at the same moment. Expectations and curiosity ran high as from them. Large numbers of people now streamed in as the zero hour approached.
Suddenly, a metallic grey 504 salon emerged from the Iruowelle end of the hall carrying at the back Chief Silas Ezenwa and Ichie Oku, who had disappeared into the Iruowelle village road a few minutes before. The car pulled up in front of the stand to the left, allowing Chief Silas Ezenwa to disembark right in front of the special chair left for him to echoes of ‘Igwweeee’ by those seated on that side of the field. His entry was preceded by the presentation of the oath regimen by the attendants, who explained that the declarant will be bare footed and bare chested while making his oath.
Then at 9:45 am, the A.I.U President flagged off the event with a speech, appealing for cooperation, peace and wise counsel. He ended his rousing short speech with the rhetorical finale ‘Udo o ga-dikwanu o?” and got a tremendous affirmative: “Oya-adi oo!”
A spokesman for Chief Ezenwa came forward and called for the oath to be made ready, as demanded by custom. A representative of the Anoliefo family went up to the oath attendants. Four times, he was handed over a strand of the efficacious ‘omu” (tender palm frond), each of which he knotted into a loop at the top, after pronouncing the particular misdeed or conspiracy against the late Justice which the oath is to adjudicate. The principal attendant then picks up all four strands of ‘omu’ and ties them together at the tender tip and puts the collection on the ritual pot. The Anoliefo family delegate picked the ‘omu’ and intoned that the deity does not kill any person, only the guilty needs fear. He also confirmed that the deity was swear-able.
Then, emerged Igwe Ezenwa, with his seven backers. Three of his backers being ozo men, were counted two each. Sporting a simple white sleeveless shirt on a red George wrapper, he told the gathering that he agreed to swear to oath during a meeting at the government house Awka on the 5th of September because he was told that would bring lasting Awka-Ekiti and he said does not want it ever that. ‘’It was during my time that A.I.U. Publicity Secretary there was no peace in Awka-Ekiti” and picking the small bundle of ‘omu’ from the ritual pot, he declared:
‘’Justice Lawrence Okafor Anoliefo, if ever I was in conspiracy, or in a scheme, or sent somebody or gave in instructions for him to be murdered, or hired assassins to achieve the same for me; or if I any way know about what happened to him, let this oath kill me. But if I was not in consort with anybody so to do, let those who put me on this false oath be killed by it”.
Heavy signs of relief and fulfilment went up from the town union general membership gathered as ecstatic shouts of triumph erupted from Igwe’s own backers sitted to the left facing the hall, they were ready to call it a day and carry the celebrations into the village.
Not quite so, counselled the by the president. The victory belongs to Awka-Etiti as a whole, he maintained. “Igwe has sworn the oath with his backers and I was a witness. Now must flow peace and understanding from old and young alike. God loves Awka so much hence he established it. Let us throw away our guiles, vengefulness, etc. and have a new heart and make progress like others. Today, henceforth, peace is back in Awka-Etiti. The remaining points we can thrash out easily after the Igwe’s oath market outing on the 15th of September, 1996, he ended.
The Great Debate
“Iyi Madu Teghete” For Good Or Ill?
The controversy started even before the oath was scheduled to take place. Those opposed to it marshalled out their reasons vigorously in an attempt to nip it in the bud. Those in this group could be placed into two main categories: those who opposed it mostly on religious grounds. Of course there were those who projected both sentiments in opposition to it. Now that the even has come and gone those who opposed it mostly on political grounds have either hit the end of the road or switch over the propagating religious points against it.
On the other hand, those who canvassed for it did so zealously for several political and socio-cultural reasons. Now that they have achieved their goal, they still canvass the same reasons and, in addition, either attempt to rationalise the religious objections to it or to succumb to a certain kind of fatalistic self-pity and repudiation.
Awka-Etiti Excel went to town to find out the ‘post facto’ views of some citizens about the ‘iyi madu teghete’ taken by Chief Silas Ezenwa commented inter alia: “when the issue came up on September 5, at Awka, it was explained; they said that’s one thing that if done will surely bring peace to Awka-Etiti. I said that was fine. Because if you would want to say that it was during my tenure in office that there was no peace in Awka-Etiti, I will not let that happen. Thus, the man around whom the controversy resolved seemed to be saying that if taking the oath- against his wish and considered opinion- was the sacrifice he had to make for peace to reign in the town, then he was prepared to do it.
Commenting immediately after the oath was taken in the full presence of the entire town, the man who led the A.I.U to achieve its nine year old objective, Mr Godwin Emejulu, President of the union, showed a states-manly candour and tactful optimism. When it seemed as if the jubilation of the supporters of Igwe Ezenwa will not abate, he firmly called them to order, asking them for peace, calmness and orderliness because “now we are doing things together again”. “Igwe has sworn the oath with his eight backers and I am witness to it”, he went on. “We want peace and understanding from old and young… if you construct a road to suit a small man, when a big man comes by he gets stuck. Awka-Etiti, we have today paved our way with the big… Awka is supreme. That is the lesson Igwe has imparted to us today. He called for a new heart from one and all. Using another proverb, he likened the oath to “a big bone in the throat” which has been pushed in with a big ball of fufu. What is left should be a lot easier to deal with. And looking ahead to fill normalisation, he- partly in his natural capacity as Nnaoechie to the Igwe- advised Chief Ezenwa to oversee the town with expansive love, humility and magnanimity of heart when his full privileges are restored to him in due course.
Chief Gozie Uba (Akaekpuchionwa) believes that it was a mistake to have gone for the traditional oath. He made reference to the state Administrator whom he said had, more like Pontius Pilate, washed his hands before giving the town the fetish oath that it had asked for. In his opinion “it is a pity we showed lack of faith in the bible”. He wondered if that was an acceptable imperative for peace.
While being sad and praying God for forgiveness on the town for subscribing to the oath, Mr Arinze however, opined that the concept of the oath was not a negative one, with intent to witch hunt, but one designed to clear doubts and to bind community together. He noted further that had the Igwe volunteered initially after he came out of the detention – and taken the oath as he has now done, the whole matter would have been put to rest long time ago. “Now that he has done so, he admonished let peace reign”. Let every other issue be died. Let all show a lot of patience and work for unity.
This same reconciliation theme runs through the reaction of the Anoliefo family to the oath taking. In an exclusive interview, a spokesman for the family of Chief Anoliefo stated that “angers have been assuaged and as such we do not wish to pursue the matter of Igwe S. Ezenwa’s involvement in the death of late Justice Anoliefo any further”. He went on to add that it is the family’s fervent hope that after the mandatory one year “Iso nso iyi”, the remaining issues listed at the Government House, Awka-Etiti meeting of September 5, will amicably thrashed out so that total peace can be restored. On the issue of some people’s condemnation of the traditional oath, the spokesman said that the family appreciate that some people may have found it distasteful to their religious sensibilities, but if it took that for peace and normalcy to now return to Awka-Etiti, then it may have been worth the while.
When asked what the Anoliefo’s family looks forward to in the socio-political life of the town after the oath, Chief Anoliefo the Olorogun of Iyede, noted that “the saga has taught everybody in the town some great lessons and created a lot of awareness among its citizenry. Therefore in the coming dispensation which the family believes very much in we call for humility, maturity, respect and manifest love from all concerned so that another degeneration may not ensue and so that true peace may reign.”
Sidney Anumba, an outspoken personality in the town also believes that the oath could have been taken eight years ago and saved the town from a lot of unnecessary heartache. He believes that the fact of its being accomplished now will help to soothe the frayed nerves of the aggrieved persons and thus help to restore lasting peace. To him, religious sentiments about so called fetish oath is insincere because once we condemn the oath, which forms part of our tradition, when we should also condemn with the same force of Igweship, which is another manifestation of the same tradition.
Also insisting on the acceptability of the “iyi madu teghete” was Mr Oge Obi Ezebunafo, who noted with the benefit of hind sight that “When truth goes down the river, it will one day resurface”. Tracing both the history of oath taking in Awka-Etiti in general and the futile effort of the various peace commissions to see that the oath was taken in difference to the well-known tradition of the town, he opined that the oath taking was simply God’s answer to the people’s long time prayer. As far as he could decipher, the traditional oath Igwe took with eight men has restored the glory and supremacy of Awka-Etiti. We don’t want anybody to die, but law, order and due process to reign, he surmised.
Speaking in the same vein were several people who spoke immediately to one video reporter at the venue of the oath minutes after the historical event. The Vice president of the A.I.U Mr Josephat Okpalafulaku, Dunu Obiukwu, was quite poignant and positive about the event. An irrepressible and humorous veteran of the titanic struggle to realise the goal of the 9-man oath. He noted that the event was a noble mission accomplished. From this day forward, “he said anybody who gossips with the Igwe’s name in connection with the murder of Anoliefo will have to give account. After this “nso iyi” next year September, we shall settle the remaining issues and that be it”. Others who spoke in the same breath were Mr Patrick Eli, Akaekpuchi Obi, Joe Okwumuo and Bernard Okorieji.
However, in a definitive interview granted Awka-Etiti Excel by Mr Romanus Izu Arinze, the publicity secretary of the A.I.U, he threw more insight into what might be the philosophical basis of the A.I.U. approach to the whole matter. According to him, the essence of the oath taking is to bring it home to people that Awka-Etiti has tradition and for somebody to be linked with the death of another indigene is still an abomination; and if the person so accused is to regain his good name and standing in the society, he or she has to make effort to clear himself of involvement in the atrocity. “It does not matter what anybody, person or group thinks now, oath taking for now and until change is still the only way an indigene can clear himself or herself when accused of murder, especially of a fellow citizen”, he concluded.
Advancing further reasons for the insistence on the traditional oath, the public relations guru averred that “for the institution of Igweship in Awka-Etiti to retain respect in the town and among our neighbours, whoever occupies the position at any time must be seen to live by example and must be seen to hold the traditions of the town he rules in very high esteem”.
Reacting to critics of the “Iyi madu teghete”, Mr Arinze insisted that “it is the ultimate symbol of the authority of the town over every indigene. It is also villager’s vision of equity and justice as far as human limitations allow he insisted, and that is why the military administrator insisted that the oath be administered since it is the only just thing to do in the circumstance. Just like in the society in any court of law, the judge uses law applicable to the society to decide any case before it”. Concluding, Mr Arinze noted that, “if the oath taking is as stupid or malicious as people make it out to be, the Military Administrator, who happens to be well known as a Christian would not have subscribed to it. But as he said most unequivocally, the custodian of the tradition of a people must abide by the same tradition”.
Also quite positive about the benefit of the “Iyi madu teghete”is Mr Mathias Okeke, Ezekwuluonwe, according to him, an end to the wagging of tongues over the murder of Justice Anoliefo will make for progress in the town, as the remaining issues will be thrashed out in due courses.
Yet all of these massive effusions of enthusiasm and support for the oath taking do not appear to have cut the ice with some people who thought the issue could have been handled differently. Ononenyi, Edwin Uchendu, a stalwart citizen of the town thinks that now it is all in the past tense, it should safely remain so. This is not time, he said to start prognosticating. “Awka-Etiti has deeper running psychological problems that have to be tackled before we can easily deal with all our other visible problems”, be noted.
PEACE AT LAST
The debate goes on and infinitum – or at least until September 1996, when the remaining issues will be addressed. When that time comes, will there be enough good faith and generosity of heart found in the land? The consensus seems to be that there is enough goodwill and determination to see the peace process through to the end. In the opinion of most if the “Iyi madu teghete” has come and gone after all said and done, then full peace has already entered our threshold. That much was the theme of the A.I.U. President’s two speeches on Friday, 15th September, 1995 – the day of the great oath.